Although my background is somewhat ethnically monotone, my son actually has a deep cultural heritage. My wife is French, and her mother’s entire side of the family still lives in France. At a little over two years old, Miles has already traveled overseas to meet this side of the family.
Sometimes it’s hard to have a son who is inherently cooler than you are.
Despite being French, my wife’s mother has actually recently moved to Spain. She fell in love with the Spanish language and the city of Madrid, and like the adventurer she is, decided to make it her new home. This means that when she comes to visit, some combination of Spanish, French and English pervades our home.
Right now Miles is like a little language vacuum, sucking up everything he hears and regurgitating his interpretation of it back to us. Given his cultural background, we like to think that he’s absorbing some of the non-English vocabulary as well, and we’ve encouraged him in this direction. We’ve even gone so far as to buy some of his favorite books in other languages. (If you want a good laugh, listen to me trying to read Bonsoir Lune. Train wreck.)
What has worked surprisingly well is exposing Miles to multicultural shows such as Dora the Explorer. Personally I think watching Dora is like going on a bad trip — talking backpacks, booted monkeys, dancing stars, oh my! — but Miles loves it. And Dora is great at getting him to participate by saying Spanish vocabulary words. Miles just recently started counting, but thanks to Dora, we’ve caught him counting in Spanish as well as English.
Even if Miles wasn’t part French, we’d want to put an emphasis on language learning. Studies have shown that kids absorb language at an incredible rate at this age, and learning a second language will help give Miles a leg up later in life.
But learning a second language is much more than that. If words really are so important, if they really do provide a bridge between thoughts, experiences and memories, then learning another language will provide Miles with a bridge to someplace outside of his cultural norm. His absorption of multiple languages will help him be a free thinker who can creatively interpret any situation and see things from multiple points of view. To me, that’s an important part of being a global citizen, and a reason I’ve placed an emphasis on language learning in my own life.
I know there are many of you who have mixed cultural heritages, and I would be fascinated to hear some of your stories. How have you handed that down to your kids? Do you put an emphasis on different languages in your home?
Caleb Gardner is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.